By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
At the start of the final lap of the Monday Night Racing All-Star Race, TJ Majors was outside the top-five. One bold five-wide pass and a wreck avoidance later, the RFK Racing spotter took the win in a photo finish.
Exiting Turn 2 on the final lap at Talladega Superspeedway, Justin Melillo swung to the inside of NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers Anthony Alfredo and Will Rodgers. Melillo’s virtual No. 53 Traxion.GG Dallara iR18 cruised forward. At the same time, Majors did the same in his virtual No. 22 Team Penske Dallara. However, the longtime spotter of Brad Keselowski jumped to the inside of Melillo’s car.
The battle for the lead, and the $175 prize, became a five-wide affair with Alfredo, Rodgers, Majors, Melillo, and Presley Sorah all fighting for position. Both Majors and Melillo were below the double-yellow line, its’ NASCAR-rule not enforced. As the duo merged back on the racing surface in Turn 3, contact sent both Sorah and Steve Auffant into the outside wall.
The loss of moment swung the lead back to a battle between Rajah Caruth, Michael Massie, and Rodgers. In the tri-oval, Massie pushed up the track, into Rodgers. The trio crashed with the Xfinity driver’s car climbing over Massie’s Frontstretch Dallara. Avoiding the carnage, both Majors and Melillo drag-raced to the checkered flag. Majors crossed the line first in a photo finish, 0.042 seconds ahead of the eNASCAR reporter.
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“I didn’t expect to win that,” joked Majors. “Will had that race won, he got turned coming to the line. I was just trying to make something happen down the backstretch, got swallowed up out of Turn 4. But you race to the line, you never know what’s going to happen. That’s why it’s Talladega in the IndyCar no less.”
The move Majors made, which ultimately earned him the win, was one that Caruth had made at the start of the final 11-lap run to the finish. The NASCAR Drive for Diversity participant made the move to jump from seventh to the lead. Monday Night Racing co-founder Ford Martin attempted the same move on the frontstretch, and ultimately caused a multi-car wreck after getting loose on the apron.
“Cup cars at Talladega, it’s fast enough, Majors continued. “IndyCar with this group, it’s going to be pretty wild. I think it’s a pretty good combo for an All-Star Race. It’s pretty fun to do, we were three, four-wide or even more at times. Got to thank Raj a little bit for teaching me that move off of Turn 2 down into Turn 3. Saw him do it and go all the way to the lead, so that’s what I was aiming for.”
Jason Keffer, Caruth, and Massie rounded out the top-five. Rodgers, Alfredo, Nick Olsen, Sorah, and Auffant completed the top-10.
Only the top-12 participated in the final 11-lap run to the finish. On lap 65, those outside the top-12 were eliminated from the race. A multi-car pileup in Turn 2 on lap 63 eliminated many contenders including James Bickford, Brandon Brown, Brad Perez, and David Schildhouse. With the Stage ending under caution, those 13th and below were unable to fight for a chance to make the top-12.
Preston Pardus, eight at the time of caution, was penalized for causing the accident and eliminated. That advanced Auffant into the top-12.
1. 22-TJ Majors  ($175), 2. 53-Justin Melillo , 3. 33-Jason Keffer , 4. 44-Rajah Caruth , 5. 27-Michael Massie , 6. 24-Will Rodgers , 7. 23-Anthony Alfredo , 8. 28-Nick Olsen , 9. 98-Presley Sorah , 10. 11-Steve Auffant , 11. 07-Ford Martin , 12. 1-Josh Slate , 13. 42-Preston Pardus , 14. 63-Bryan Boris Cook , 15. 64-Drew Welker , 16. 60-Brad Perez , 17. 17-Adam Cabot , 18. 16-Luke Knupp , 19. 20-David Schildhouse , 20. 13-Gary Sexton , 21. 28-Ron Capps , 22. 62-William Hale , 23. 29-James Bickford , 24. 12-Brandon Brown , 25. 21-Max Kennon , 26. 91-Cole Irvin , 27. 57-Seth Eggert , 28. 4-Brett Baldeck , 29. 99-Mark Rebilas , 30. 84-Kase Kallenbach , 31. 77-Devon Henry , 32. 93-Garrett Miller .
Lead Changes: 29 among 15 drivers.
Lap Leader(s): Adam Cabot (Pole-0), Max Kennon 1, Preston Pardus 2-5, Max Kennon 6-8, Presley Sorah 9-11, Luke Knupp 12, Jason Keffer 13, Ron Capps 14, Max Kennon 15-19, Will Rodgers 20-21, Presley Sorah 22, Preston Pardus 23, Will Rodgers 24, Presley Sorah 25, Preston Pardus 26, Presley Sorah 27-40, Anthony Alfredo 41, Justin Melillo 42-44, Devon Henry 45-46, Brandon Brown 47, Justin Melillo 48-52, Josh Slate 53-54, TJ Majors 55-56, Anthony Alfredo 57-71, Rajah Caruth 72-73, TJ Majors 74, Anthony Alfredo 75-78, Presley Sorah 79, Anthony Alfredo 80, TJ Majors 81.
Laps Led: Anthony Alfredo 21, Presley Sorah 20, Max Kennon 9, Justin Melillo 8, Preston Pardus 6, TJ Majors 4, Will Rodgers 3, Rajah Caruth 2, Devon Henry 2, Josh Slate 2, Brandon Brown 1, Ron Capps 1, Jason Keffer 1, Luke Knupp 1, Adam Cabot 0 (Pole).
Hard Charger(s): 53-Justin Melillo (+26).
Caution Flags: Six for 16 Laps.
Margin of Victory: 0.042 seconds.
Time of Race: One hour, 18 minutes, 54.627 seconds.
Average Speed: 163.862 MPH.
Pole Winner: 17-Adam Cabot, 38.667 seconds (247.653 MPH).
Fastest Lap: 98-Presley Sorah, Lap 21, 38.088 seconds (251.418 MPH).
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Seth Eggert / Kickin’ the Tires.